Avoid Emergencies

Make memory care facility home before safety is at risk.

In December, Genevieve Ireton and her husband, Robert, decided to spend three months in Florida to visit their children and get away from the cold of upstate New York. Little did they know that their getaway would dissolve into a perilous emergency that dramatically changed their lives.
“Robert was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease two years ago,” shares Genevieve. “He was in the early stages when he was diagnosed, and things were moving along slowly. Before we left home, he was checked out at the Alzheimer’s unit in Glens Falls. They performed a physical and said he was okay to go to Florida.

Photo by Nerissa Johnson.

Robert and Genevieve stay close to home with their dog, Bodie.

“He was pretty good the first couple of weeks we were in Florida, but then things started to change. Symptoms appeared that weren’t there before. I realized a change in environment can sometimes escalate behaviors, but he always liked Florida.”
Unfortunately, the nature of Alzheimer’s disease is unpredictable, and Robert’s condition was aggravated by being away from home. His symptoms progressed beyond expectations, and his behavior became more erratic.
“In late December, he started wandering, which was a new behavior and a real danger. It’s a busy area where we stay,” confirms Genevieve. “A neighbor was a member of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, and he told me about their Safe Trak program that finds people who wander away.
“I contacted the Sheriff’s Office and they came over immediately so we could get Robert signed up. It didn’t stop him from wandering, but I knew it could locate him in minutes.”
Genevieve was grateful for the program, which was tested in early January, when Robert had a particularly bad episode and wandered off.
“He was perfectly fine that morning,” describes Genevieve. “We had a great day; we went to Flagler Beach. Then in the afternoon, he just snapped. He wanted to go home and became very agitated. He wanted to put our things in the car, and he became unmanageable. Then he just took off.
“I called 911, and someone came over right away. After they found Robert, he was admitted to the hospital for observation, but they couldn’t keep him. One of the deputies involved got him into Symphony at St. Augustine, which is close by, that same night.”
At this point, Genevieve knew she could no longer care for Robert at home on her own. Through the Safe Trak program, she was able to enroll him at Symphony at St. Augustine, a memory care community exclusively for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss and other forms of dementia.
“One of the side effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia is sundowner’s syndrome, which can cause agitation and the urge to wander at night,” informs Tara Tosh, executive director of Symphony at St. Augustine. “Here, the entire community is secured for safety, and residents can walk freely throughout common areas and grounds while being overseen by a trained staff twenty-four hours a day.
“If our residents want to take a walk around the courtyard, go to an activity station or get a snack, we’re here for them.”

Safe Trak Searching

“As part of Safe Trak, we attach trackers to patients who are suffering from diminished mental capacity or a condition that leads them to wander away from home,” notes Sgt. Jim Priester of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office of Community Affairs.
Jim, who operates the program along with Sgt. Ramona Davis, describes the tracker as looking like a flat, round battery that is about one-half to three-quarters of an inch thick and fits into a watertight capsule.
The subscriber can put it on a band and wear it like a watch. The Safe Trak system uses a radio frequency, not GPS, so it can track through barriers such as walls. The radio signal is also more reliable than typical cell phone signals.
“Safe Trak saves us time in the recovery of patients who wander and need to get back to safety,” adds Jim, who explains the procedure when a Safe Trak subscriber wanders away from home.
“As soon as the caregiver knows the person is gone, they call 911, and the operator activates the Safe Trak team,” he states. “The operator keeps the caregiver on the phone, and we walk them through the home room-by-room looking for the person until the deputies arrive. Then, we use the devices to track down the missing person.
“Robert had wandered a half mile down the road from the Ireton’s home to a gas station. He wandered across four lanes of traffic, but he was safe.”
Often, people with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia are confused and frightened. To lessen the fear, the Safe Trak team brings the caregiver to the site to take the person home or to the hospital.
“The person may be afraid of law enforcement,” offers Jim. “We don’t want to put them in a patrol car with a cage in the back like a prisoner. Instead, we have a family member come over with their own vehicle so the person doesn’t get upset and we don’t add to the stress of the event.”
There’s an organization in St. Johns County called the Senior Provider Information Network or SPIN, and the Sheriff’s Office and Symphony at St. Augustine both belong to that group. It was through this relationship that Robert was referred to Symphony and became a resident right away after his incident in January.
“We’re happy to help people through the Safe Trak and SPIN programs,” says Tara. “However, it’s preferable for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia to be safely settled at Symphony at St. Augustine before they find themselves in dangerous emergency situations like Robert’s.”

Absolute Gratitude

Even though Robert’s stay at Symphony at St. Augustine is temporary – the couple will return to New York State in the spring – Genevieve is thrilled by the facility and their experience there.
“I’m very impressed,” she states. “Symphony at St. Augustine is lovely, and it’s been a good place for Robert to settle down. The staff is very helpful and accommodating. They’re very nice and polite and treat the residents with respect.

“I’m very impressed with Symphony at St. Augustine. I’m grateful that’s where I was able to take Robert. They’re very, very good.” – Genevieve

“The staff also keeps a busy schedule during the day with different activities to stimulate the residents and help them interact.
“The doctor who sees patients at Symphony recently met with Robert. He took my husband’s history and did some information gathering. Then, the staff scheduled Robert for occupational and physical therapy and rearranged his room so he would be more comfortable.”
Now, with the help of the Symphony at St. Augustine staff, Genevieve is looking for an appropriate facility for Robert when they return home to upstate New York.
“The staff is getting the information I need to get appointments with facilities near our home,” she reports. “Symphony is doing an evaluation of Robert. They have a psychiatric team that will determine what stage of the disease he’s in and note what behaviors they’ve observed. That’s part of his discharge planning.”
Genevieve says everything has worked out well, even though it was totally unexpected. She never anticipated Robert’s behavior to change so quickly and for him to end up in a memory care facility. Still, she’s happy with the outcome.
“I’m very impressed with Symphony at St. Augustine,” she comments. “I’m grateful that’s where I was able to take Robert. They’re very, very good with my husband.”

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    • Symphony at St. Augustine

      Symphony at St. Augustine is a world-class, memory care community nestled in a quietly convenient neighborhood near one of the most beautiful beaches in Florida. Residents enjoy an unrivaled attention to detail that is evident in everything f... Read More